Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

January 3, 2010

On the Eve of the City Council Inauguration and Mayoral Vote

Filed under: 2009 Election,Cambridge government,City Council — Tags: , , — Robert Winters @ 6:51 pm

On the Eve of the City Council Inauguration and Mayoral Vote

On Monday, January 4, 2010 at 10:00am the newly elected Cambridge City Council will be sworn in at City Hall. Once City Clerk Margaret Drury takes care of all the swearing-in, the new Council will take up their first order of business – the election of a Mayor. If a majority is able to elect a Mayor, they will then proceed to the election of the Vice-Chair of the City Council (commonly known as Vice-Mayor).

The elected councillors have been meeting in pairs and threesomes and foursomes ever since the election results were known in November as the various mayoral contenders have been trying to convince and bargain their way into the Mayor’s Office. Much of the convincing is based on things like philosophy, committee appointments, and who might be well-suited to chair the School Committee. On the other hand, there is a history of some not-so-above-board deal-making that also takes place in this process, e.g. the introduction of personal aides for all city councillors that grew out of the January 2006 deal-making.

As most voting Cantabrigians know, the Mayor of Cambridge is not popularly elected. It’s really more like the election of a City Council President as in Boston and many other places. There is a certain logic in allowing an elected body to choose its own Chair, especially in a city governed by the Plan E Charter in which the City Council chooses a city manager as chief executive officer of the City. However, there is also a point of view that city councillors should act as representatives of the electorate and that they have some duty to act on behalf of those who elected them. If this is the case, what criteria should guide the election?

Criterion #1 – Showing Up for Work

Based on who has attended City Council committee meetings during the 2008-2009 term, the nod might go to Sam Seidel or Henrietta Davis (see chart at, though a strong case could be made for David Maher who chaired more meetings than any of his colleagues. Of course, outgoing Mayor Denise Simmons would also have to be included among the contenders for all the City Council and School Committee meetings she chaired during her term.

Criterion #2 – Let the People Decide – Instant Runoff

We could use the ballot data from the November election to see who would be elected if a series of runoffs were to be held using the ballots that elected the city councillors. Based of this, the nod would go to Henrietta Davis (with Denise Simmons as the last eliminated and Tim Toomey before her). However, the notion that voter preferences should factor into the mayoral election exposes a paradox. After the 2005 and 2007 elections, the person elected Mayor was the least preferred by the voters among the nine elected and would have been the first eliminated in an Instant Runoff election. Specifically, in 2005 and 2007 the Instant Runoff winner was Henrietta Davis, but Kenneth E. Reeves was chosen in January 2006 and Denise Simmons in January 2008 as Mayor. The likely reason for this reversal of fortune is that Council colleagues often do not wish to strengthen the hand of a popular colleague. If the pattern of 2005 and 2007 is repeated this year, we’ll be greeting Mayor Leland Cheung on Monday morning.

I made a chart of these Instant Runoff Simulations for the 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2001, 1999, 1997, and 1991 elections (the ones for which ballot data is available). It’s worth noting that the last times the Instant Runoff winners were actually elected Mayor were in 1997 (Frank Duehay) and 1999 (Anthony Galluccio).

Criterion #3 – Let the People Decide – Look at the Rankings

There are quite a few ways of measuring popularity based on ballot rankings. One rather simplistic approach is to look only at the #1 rankings – a criterion often promoted in years past. The “#1 vote-getter” would make the case that this is what the people demand. Of course, this ignores the phenomenon of vote-splitting – the very thing that preferential ballots are designed to mitigate. Perhaps a more fair way to measure popularity based on ballot rankings would be to count the number of ballots on which each candidate appears with a high ranking, e.g. somewhere in the top 3 or top 5 or top 9 rankings. Henrietta Davis wins according to this criteria in all scenarios except the “Top 3” criterion in which she is eclipsed by 1 vote by Denise Simmons, 5015 to 5014. It’s worth noting that according to these criteria, some elected councillors fare worse than some candidates who were not even elected. For example, using a “Top 3” criterion, Marjorie Decker and Leland Cheung are eclipsed by Eddie Sullivan and Larry Ward. In all criteria using 5 or more rankings, Marjorie Decker actually finishes 12th, though one can certainly argue that this may be a by-product of being a write-in candidate.

Criterion #4 – School Committee Experience

There are four councillors who have been previously elected to the Cambridge School Committee – Tim Toomey, Henrietta Davis, David Maher, and Denise Simmons. Of course, all those who have previously served as Mayor have also served in this capacity.

Criterion #5 – The Rotation Principle

There is something of a tradition of passing the torch among City Council colleagues so that various mayoral styles and priorities can be sampled. Based on this, the nod would go to Tim Toomey and Henrietta Davis for having waited their turn the longest. Needless to say, this criterion is most often quoted in order to dissuade councillors from reelecting a Mayor to a 2nd consecutive term. The Rotation Principle generally goes hand-in-hand with the Exclusion Principle, i.e. the fact that there are some elected councillors whose behavior has been such that they couldn’t get majority support under virtually any circumstance. In short, some measure of acceptability is a prerequisite for consideration under the Rotation Principle. Though there is a temptation to name the Excluded here, I shall resist. In any case, every councillor’s vote weighs as much as any other.

We’ll see what Monday brings. Perhaps a deck of cards or some dice will prove handy in determining the outcome. – Robert Winters

Jan 4, 4:00pm update: The newly inaugurated Cambridge City Council failed to elect Mayor at its opening meeting. Their next opportunity will be at their regular January 11 meeting next Monday. Here’s how the vote went:

Leland Cheung voted for Marjorie Decker
Henrietta Davis voted for Henrietta Davis
Marjorie Decker voted for Marjorie Decker
Craig Kelley voted for Ken Reeves
David Maher voted for David Maher
Ken Reeves voted for Ken Reeves
Sam Seidel voted for David Maher
Denise Simmons voted for Denise Simmons
Tim Toomey voted for David Maher

It takes 5 votes to elect a Mayor, so there’s a way to go. The School Committee will be inaugurated at 6:00pm tonight with Councillor Reeves standing in as Chair in the absence of an elected Mayor. It is not clear whether they will vote to elect their Vice-Chair at this meeting or if they will wait until the election of a Mayor and 7th voting member of the School Committee.

1 Comment

  1. >Leland Cheung voted for Marjorie Decker

    Very BAD start to your legislative career there, Leland.

    -Fred Baker

    Comment by Fred Baker — January 7, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

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